Pastoralist communities live off the land. In northern Kenya, where I grew up, we kept local breeds of cattle, which grazed in the arid rangelands. But our land is more than the basis of our livelihoods; it also underpins our culture and our identity. As the local saying goes, “This is where our umbilical cords are buried.” If that cord is cut – if our communities are cut off from the land – tradition tells us we cannot survive.
Kenyan institutions, from schools to government, have a different view. The schools teach that ranchers live on barren, unproductive land, and that our approach to ranching is archaic and environmentally destructive. Official policies aim to force pastoral communities to abandon their mobile herding system, in favor of more ‘advanced’ or ‘modern’ farming systems, such as agriculture, which conventional wisdom says is more productive and sustainable.
It was only when I undertook postgraduate studies that I encountered credible evidence to the contrary. It turned out that my community in northern Kenya had been right all along: pastoralist livestock practices are well suited to dryland conditions, and pastoralism is a viable land-use option that can sustainable use of dispersed resources.
Unfortunately, I also learned that prejudice against pastoral systems is pervasive. And the deeply flawed logic behind this bias continues to influence land use decisions, including the decision to allow the appropriation of rangelands for green energy. projects.
It’s easy to understand why green energy producers have set their sights on rangelands, which they mistakenly label as “wasteland”. Because the rangelands are quite flat and tend to experience high solar irradiation and strong winds, they are ideal sites for cheap and lucrative solar and wind power. projects.
Prejudices against pastoral systems are pervasive.
It helps that the courses are sparsely populated. Although local residents often resist the development of solar and wind farms, pastoral communities have less ability to challenge authorities than wealthier and more numerous city dwellers.
The power of pastoralists to defend their interests is further diminished by their frequent exclusion from relevant decision-making processes. In Kenya, India, Morocco and Norway, large-scale green energy projects have been implemented on land used by pastoralists, without adequate consultation with these groups and with limited respect for the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) established in global human rights agreements.
Under FPIC principles, indigenous and pastoral communities have the right to grant or withhold permission for a project which may affect them or their territories. But traditional pastoralists generally do not have legally recognized titles to their common pastures, which are supposed to be held by the state “in trust” for its citizens.
But states often choose not to honor traditional land rights, even if it means violating international agreements. Thus, where solar farms are built, pastoralists lose access to pastures. Wind farms interfere less with grazing, but are often seen by pastoral communities as violations of their land and cultural rights. In fact, as my colleague Ann Waters-Bayer and I show in a recent study, green energy projects have led to dispossession of land and energy, interference in livestock migration routes, disruption of pastoral crops and reduced resilience of the pastoral land use system.
Pastoral communities have tried to resist – sometimes violently, sometimes through the courts. In two cases – one in Kenya and the other in Norway – the courts ruled that the land acquisition process was illegal. But, in both cases, the wind turbines are still spinning, underscoring the uphill battle pastoralists must fight to protect their lands, crops and livelihoods.
There are better land management models that pastoralists depend on. In Mongolia, effective consultations with local communities meant that local concerns about the siting of solar parks were taken into account when project design, with herders retaining full access to the pasture under wind turbines and power lines. Pastoral systems were therefore not disrupted at all. In Canada, Kenya and Mexico, there are green energies projects that benefit local communities through revenue sharing.
Such models cannot be adopted too soon, as the world faces a likely boom in “green grabbing” for energy expansion. The war in Ukraine has contributed to a spike in global energy prices and prompted several European countries to seek alternatives to Russian oil and gas. Along with the pressure to make progress towards net zero emissions, the incentive to expand green power generation is stronger than ever. The “wastelands” of the sunny, windswept dry tropics and subtropics have never been more commercially attractive.
Clearly, the expansion of green energy is vital. Green energy projects can even improve animal welfare, for example by providing shade. The problem comes down to design: developers need to adopt multifunctional approaches to land use that integrate agriculture, livestock, biodiversity protection, rural social and economic activities, and energy production.
The only way to achieve this is through a transparent, inclusive and participatory process in which pastoral communities play a central role. Stricter application of human rights principles such as FPIC and stronger legal systems for the recognition of rights to commons must also be essential elements of green energy. projects.
Otherwise, increasing numbers of pastoralists will lose their land to large renewables, leading to increased poverty, migration, desperation and conflict. That would be the height of climate injustice.
Hussein Tadicha Wario is Executive Director of the Arid Lands Research and Development Center in Marsabit, Kenya.
Copyright: Project Union2022. www.project–union.org